Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Another day in paradise (North Norfolk in the sunshine)

Another quick jaunt up to the North Norfolk coast and I managed to get four paintings done, accompanied by some unusually hot sunshine which I've been trying to make the most of over the last few weekends. It's hard to find anywhere shady along this stretch of the coast so I knew I'd be needing plenty of water and sun cream. I also took my painting umbrella which I had clamped to a second lightweight tripod which I have standing next to the main one (which holds the pochade box). I then tie the umbrella stem to the main tripod with a shoelace for extra support! Seems to work if it's not too breezy.

'Blue boat, Brancaster Staithe', 11x14in - oil on board (click images to enlarge)

I was rather taken by this boat in the sunlight and and the winding path of posts that served as a nice lead in to the distance. I fancied attempting something a bit different so thought it was worth a go. The shadows seem to get better as the session progressed although there was some high cloud which muted the effect at times. The building in the distance had a nice orange roof which sits well against the blue boat. I had to work fast on this and focused more on the light effect than trying to nail every detail with the boats. I took care to suggest a bit of foreground texture without making it too distracting so as to pull the eye down to the bottom of the painting. I might be tempted to do a bigger version in the studio at some point, perhaps tweaking the composition and refining the drawing.

'Late afternoon, Morston Quay', 10x13in - oil on board

I love painting at Morston. It's pretty quiet (apart from the squawking seagulls) and the rhythms of the boats and water are very appealing. This is a 'classic' view (above) I guess, looking towards Blakeney in the distance. It's important to make the composition work with the position of the boats and the flow of the water pattern so I mapped these basic elements in early on to ensure that the design would hold together. There were some nice shadows to work with on the foreground boats.

Below is a piece done at Blakeney. I was a little hot and bothered at this point, having set up along the quay front but abandoning the attempt after finding it too congested (with people) and the boats were spinning round in the tidal flow. I opted for a quieter spot, looking back at the town with a couple of boats moored on the bank in the foreground. The boats were still moving a lot but I though I had a better chance with the grounded pair in the foreground. Again, something a little different I thought and a nice moment when a nice chap came past and started picking something from the wet mud. I asked him what he was collecting and told me it was samphire. Apparently, it is quite a sought after ingredient for fine dining. Anyway, I knew I had a title for the painting!

'Samphire picking, Blakeney' - 8x12in, oil on board

After painting the first piece at Morston I turned round and spotted this subject which I felt had potential. I moved the boats around a bit but at least they weren't going anywhere! The biggest factor here was the quick pace at which the light was shifting. I had to work fast and tried to keep the tones crisp and the colours as fresh as possible. The shadows were lovely, particularly the one raking across the foreground from the boat on the right. The sky, whilst having a blue component, was warmed by the light and needed to be harmonized with the overall colour scheme to make it work as a whole. Enjoyed painting this and it may well have some potential for a larger piece in the studio. Apparently you can take a boat out to Blakeney Point from Morston and get off at the museum which is housed in the old lighthouse building. From there you can walk to a rather picturesque beach. Tempted to give that a go on another visit.

Another enjoyable outing to Norfolk, albeit a brief one. Hoping to be back again soon!

'Morston watch tower, evening light' - 11x14in, oil on board

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Sunshine from North Norfolk

At the weekend the forecast was so good I decided to head for North Norfolk and soak up the sunshine by the sea. I set off at 5:45am to beat the traffic and squeeze the most out of the day ahead. The plan was to paint at Morston quay and I was glad to find the tide heading out when I arrived. I enjoy painting the boats amongst the wet mud and sand and it was a real bonus having a cloudless sky to flood the subjects with light. Colours and tones of the boats were crisp and it was a nice challenge to work these in with the more muted and subtle colours of the surroundings. Really, I ought to have started off small but in order to make the most of things I decided to wade in with a 12x16in study of the boats resting in the wet mud as the tide receded (forming a nice S curve as it did so). The mooring posts reflected nicely to provide a bit of structure and I enjoyed painting those blue cast shadows from the boats!

'Receding tide, Morston Quay' (12x16 - oil on board) - click images to view larger versions

The next piece was done from the vantage point of the mooring posts seen in the first painting (for the first painting I was pitched in what turned out to be the middle of the second painting. Again, I liked the rhythm of the water channel, the activity of the boats and the distant horizon with Blakeney church tower on the right. As with many of these scenes, there's often a need to shift things around to try and make the composition work. This can be tricky to do plein air as you don't necessarily have the time to plan the piece as much as in the studio. I find it's more instinctive on location and you get a feel for how things might work best. The same goes with the water and I shifted the areas around a bit to try and make the design backbone hold together. I enjoy using the notes of colour but try not to get too carried away with too many bright accents. 

'Towards Blakeney, Morston Quay' (8x16, oil on board)

I spent a bit of time in the afternoon trying to find a B&B (everywhere seemed be booked!) and managed to squeeze in a study of Cley Mill in the evening sunshine. I've attempted this before but wanted to really try and nail the colours in a fresh, economical manner (just as well because there was no time to hang about with the late sun).

'Cley Mill, evening light ' (6x16in, oil on board)

Day 2 (Sunday) and first up was Brancaster Staithe. I initially thought about painting the boats but turned back to view the boat house and liked the contrast offered by the jetty. Again, a nice cast shadow from the boat and a family paddling in the water made the ideal note of interest to link from the distance to the foreground. I would actually have considered a wider format, taking in more of the boat house and the water on the right but settled on 8x16 as more sensible first attempt of the day

'Sunday morning paddle, Brancaster Staithe' (8x16in, oil on board)

For the next piece I ventured up onto the walkway which heads out towards the creek linking to the sea. I was struck by all the activity of the boats and people, it was a a classic summer's day scene. Lots of happy family sounds, kids and dogs splashing in the shallow water, people messing about in dinghies, I find the sounds can become a memorable part of the painting experience with the senses firmly tuned in. I had a job knitting all the elements together, shifting the people, boats and water to try and make it work as a whole. The light moved round quickly and almost became contra-jour by the end of the session.

'Summer Sunday, Brancaster Staithe' (8x16in, oil on board)

The third painting was done at nearby Brancaster. I was rather taken with the old boat sheds and with the water at low tide I thought I'd take advantage. I like the contrast of the busy shed area with the quieter foreground elements. The tonal structure was important in this one so I paid particular attention to judging those as accurately as possible. Nice to have the ping of the blue boat to work against the warmer colours in the buildings.

'Old boat sheds, Brancaster' (12x16in, oil on board)

After this I headed back to Brancaster Staithe in search of my flask (which was still in my bag all along....I blame the heat!). Whilst there I bumped into my friend Graham Webber (purely by chance), who I'd been painting with down in Essex the previous weekend. Small world indeed! I summoned the energy for one final study back at Brancaster and found a nice spot to the side of the old boat sheds where the late evening light was catching the side of a boat. It was too good to resist! Only enough time/energy for an 8x10 though, barely 40 minutes or so in fact. The note of orange worked nicely against the blues of the water and without wanting to get bogged down in detail it was all about creating the right notes of colour/tone to get to the essence of the subject. After initially suspecting it could be a wiper I was quite pleased with the way it turned out. Nice to end the short trip on a good note. I'll certainly be heading back to North Norfolk again for more easel action, it really is a great place to paint.

'Late evening light, Brancaster' (8x10in - oil on board)


Just over a week ago I spent a mostly sunny Saturday painting with Graham Webber down at Heybridge in Essex. Graham is a very talented artist who knows the area well and we both share a passion for painting outdoors. It was great to find a place where there is plenty of water, boats, mud flats and other marine subjects that I love to paint. Living in the land locked Midlands, there is a predominantly green theme going on at this time of year and it's nice to have a break from it all and find something a bit different to work with.

We found an interesting barge which was made all the more appealing with the surrounding mud and puddles of water. Out came the 8x16 board for the first effort. In the distance there were a couple of 'Seagoesque' barges with the angled masts. Lovely! With the letterbox format I wanted to create a more dynamic composition and the ropes were very handy in softening the lines, accentuating the curves of the boat and linking everything from left to right.

'Blue barge, Heybridge' (8x16in - oil on board)

Next up was a slightly different angle, perched down some steps making the boat more prominent. What I liked about the hull of the boat was the colours, muted purple/grey towards the back and stronger blues towards the front. The shapes of the boat were quite hard to judge, almost defying what you 'think' they should be...'paint what you see' I reminded myself. The mud was nice although quite tricky to judge the relative colour, tone and temperatures. The aim was to have enough detail to maintain interest but keep it as clean and fresh as possible, otherwise the greys would just become muddy (but not the kind of mud I was trying to capture!).

Resting barge, Heybridge (11x14in - oil on board)

Graham and I scouted around but came back to the boat for a final attempt, this time with the tide back in to create a different element to play with i.e. the reflections. We both really enjoyed having the sun fully out (check out the tyre shadows) and the colours heightened by stronger light. Despite there only being one main boat there's a lot of drawing in this subject. I was conscious of not making it into a 'boat portrait' though so tried not to get too wrapped up in the technical details

Sunlit barge, Heybridge (12x16in - oil on board)

As I was painting the last piece a rather majestic looking boat came past us and had it not been moving so speedily I would have been tempted to make something of it

All in all, an enjoyable days painting with a touch of sunburn for us to take home as souvenirs (even though I slapped on the factor 30 but about an hour too late!). Graham produced three cracking paintings on a wider format which I'm tempted to experiment with sometime.